A couple of weeks ago, a meme was floating around Facebook that asked what were 10 albums you loved as a teenager. And while I thought about participating, I quickly realized that my musical habits -- which roughly involve fixating on one album for seemingly years at a time, then abruptly switching to another -- might not get me to 10 without including the Cats Original London Cast Recording (and I would have done it, too).
But it also made me remember just how much of my high school life was scored to Ben Folds Five and, more specifically, to Whatever and Ever Amen, the band's second album, its breakthrough hit, and its only platinum seller. (It's the one with "Brick.") I played the shit out of that album. I got all of my friends into it through sheer force of will. When I started dating my wife in college, I made her this endless Ben Folds Five playlist, then forced her to play it in Winamp. It was a thing.
Anyway, this has me thinking about my favorite songs from the album. Now, I like every song on the album a lot. Like, 17-year-old me believes this is basically the most perfect an album that could ever be, and is very proud of himself for buying it before "Brick" was even a thing, because there was a random article about the group in EW. But some songs are good, and some are the best, and it's time for me to tell you what the truth is.
If you have never heard this album, this is going to be a really boring newsletter, I'm sorry.
12.) "Steven's Last Night in Town": When I was 17, this was the song I was most likely to skip if I were listening to the album straight through. There were also times when I would listen to it over and over again, probably because it sort of sounds like what Woody Allen's idea of pop music is. Now, it's just kind of a weird experiment that breaks up a slightly darker, more ruminative portion of the album.
11.) "Battle of Who Could Care Less": This was the first single, and when I listened to it (I always listened to the singles first, because I thought they were the best songs, because I didn't know how music worked), I was a little disappointed. I like the song a lot more now, but I'm downgrading it for teenage me's disappointment.
10.) "Fair": Ben Folds has never met a song that would be great at 3:30 that he can't make five fucking minutes long, and this is that tendency in a nutshell. (Then again, I love the album's longest song, so what do I know?)
9.) "Song for the Dumped": Blah, blah, blah, don't read the politics of now onto the music of the past, but man, I kinda cringe to this song when I listen to it now. I get that the narrator is being kind of a sexist dick because he just got dumped, and I get this is space Folds often plays in -- he understands geek rage better than a lot of artists. But I still roll my eyes at a lot of it. Catchy, tho.
8.) "Brick": This just got overplayed, which killed it, because after you've heard it 500 times, you start to think about how, like, he's making this all about him. And that's fine and all, but if ever a song were calling out for another song from the other character's perspective... (Side note: My friend Craig and I very nearly got this to be the song that played during prom's grand march the year we were juniors. We were stopped at the last moment.)
7.) "Selfless, Cold, and Composed": This song, at 6:10, is also too long, but there's at least some interesting stuff going on in the instrumentation, and I love the build in the string section. This is the kind of song that will turn up in a '90s period piece someday to score a murder.
6.) "Kate": This gets massive bonus points for basically being about a friend of mine who was named Kate.
5.) "Cigarette": The opposite of what Folds usually does, in that it's barely 90 seconds long, and it paints a beautiful, evocative portrait, with just his voice over a lovely piano melody. (He took the lyric from a newspaper article.) There are oceans in this song that barely get explored. I like that. (17-year-old me didn't quite understand it.)
4.) "Evaporated": This was my favorite song when I was 17, but now, I kinda think it maybe stays in one place for too long. That doesn't mean it's not one of Folds's most beautiful melodies, and that there's not something haunted and perfect about it. This song played at my graduation. (I told you I forced everybody to like this band.)
3.) "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces": I think nobody likes this song as much as I do, but I think it's a great album opener. It's also one of Folds's up tempo songs that doesn't waste all of its best ideas in the first minute. This thing moves and flows and changes.
2.) "Smoke": This is my wife's favorite song, and I'm ashamed to say I often skipped past it before she pointed out to me that it's perfect. Smart instrumentation, with a lovely lyric and some of the album's best harmonies. Folds wrote five songs with his ex-wife, Anna Goodman, and every single one of them is a highlight of the group's albums. This is the best of the five, though.
1.) "Missing the War": I wrote way, way too much about this song here. Even as I have moved past some of my Folds fandom (though I'll never leave it behind entirely), this song is always going to be close to my heart.
Anyway, this album is great. Listen to it now. Make 17-year-old me happy.
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